Black Friday, which falls on 23 November this year, is the biggest online shopping day of the year in South Africa.
Local online retailers are planning their largest sales ever, with many shops promising significant discounts on big brands.
One of the biggest challenges for online shops on Black Friday is the ability to cope with high traffic volumes.
South Africa’s largest online store Takealot, for example, suffered from slow load times and unresponsive pages minutes into Black Friday 2017.
Later that morning, it temporarily took down its website and apps due to the failure of a fundamental service within its platform, which caused site-wide problems.
This downtime occurred despite Takealot’s changes to its systems and processes to “ensure it doesn’t leave customers disappointed”.
These changes included making their IT systems more robust and putting backup payment processes in place.
This raises the question: How are South African ecommerce players preparing for Black Friday 2018 to ensure their platforms can handle the spike in traffic?
Here are the responses from prominent local online stores on their Black Friday 2018 preparations.
Jody Forrester, Game’s director for omnichannel and financial solutions, said Massdiscounters’ online platform performed very well during Black Friday last year because of their investment in a new SAP Hybris E-Commerce platform.
“To stand us in the best stead for Black Friday, we initiated a project to review our Black Friday readiness last year and have done the same this year, incorporating the learnings from 2017,” said Forrester.
He highlighted some of the elements that they are looking at and optimising.
- System code reviews and refactoring.
- Performance testing and tuning based on load injection.
- Shutting down unnecessary portions of the site which may cause performance degradation.
- Redirecting static content to a Cloud Distribution Network in-country.
- Scaling up their cloud-based front and back-end systems to provision more capacity and cater for increased load.
- Having an increased number of dedicated multi-functional resources allocated to monitor their end-to-end ecommerce processes and respond to issues.
- Increasing the numbers of customer support staff.
- Having a contingency plan should there be a service disruption to their partners’ systems, like payment platforms or the SABC for TV licences.
Parcelninja CEO Justin Drennan said they always spend a few months preparing for Black Friday.
“This includes longer shifts, with shifts over the weekends. We need to ensure that if our clients make sales, we are able to honour the promise and deliver on time,” said Drennan.
“Its far tougher to scale a logistics business than an ecommerce site.”
Travelstart CTO Jan-Andre le Roux said they do periodic load testing to know how far the platform can scale before Black Friday.
“This enables us to know our limits and weak points, and one also learns about your platform architecture,” said le Roux.
The company also communicates with its data centre provider about bandwidth limits, which are raised for the Black Friday week.
“Also, we have a chat with our service providers (in Travelstart’s case, airlines) to warn them about high-volume API requests, and also tune timeouts to API endpoints,” he said.
“We also use a CDN to alleviate pressure in terms of website content. This can also save on bandwidth costs.”
There are also configuration changes before Black Friday, like rescheduling nightly maintenance jobs and tuning caches, since inventory will move much quicker.
To track any problems, Travelstart has real-time tracking dashboards, and alerts for when critical thresholds are breached.
“When it comes to Black Friday, we know anything could happen; some of these factors are entirely out of our hands – like issues with payment gateways,” le Roux said.
“We brainstorm all the possible worst-case scenarios and decide upfront how we will handle those situations if they arise, so that we’re ready to act on the day and minimise any possible customer frustrations.”
Julie-Anne Walsh, chief marketing officer of Takealot, told MyBroadband that they have prepared intensively for Black Friday over the past year.
“We’ve looked at all options to ensure an excellent experience and efficient management of traffic to the site over the period,” she said.
Superbalist.com told MyBroadband that its engineering team are already preparing ahead of Black Friday, which includes testing their systems rigorously to pre-empt any possible issues that may arise.
“Last year, we experienced zero downtime and we are aiming to replicate that success,” Superbalist.com said.
Raru has had a good track record with Black Friday, without any big outages hitting the company in previous years.
“We will stay with what has worked so far for us during previous Black Friday events on the online side, with a few tweaks here and there,” Raru co-founder Neil Smith told MyBroadband.
MultiChoice told MyBroadband that its Black Friday 2018 deals will work mostly through Takealot.
“We are confident that our online infrastructure will be able to handle the increased load on Black Friday,” MultiChoice said.
Asgar Mahomed, managing director for Esquire group, told MyBroadband that for the past few years, their online systems have been able to cope with the increased load without any problems.
Even with Esquire’s decision to include its 500 virtual reseller network ecommerce clients this year, they remain confident that its systems will handle the load.
“We are confident that everything should be fine as we process between 400 and 600 online orders per day already,” said Mahomed.
He added that they will have their technical team on standby, like they have done in the past, in case of any problems.